Jesus’ words in John 13:21 have often caused a lingering feeling of doubt in my heart: “Truly, truly I say to you, one of you will betray me”. How could one of Jesus’ disciples, one who loves him and follows him, turn on him like this? Could I, too, as someone who loves and follows Jesus, just as quickly deny him? What if my faith is not as firm as I think it is?
As we looked at John 13 a few weeks ago, we saw how the gospel paints a contrast between the hearts of two of Jesus’ disciples: Judas and Peter. When Judas takes the bread that Jesus has dipped into the wine and he leaves the Passover table to go out into the darkness of night and betray Jesus, he hasn’t suddenly stopped trusting or loving Jesus. He never truly trusted and loved him. John 6:64 shows us that Jesus always knew who it was that would betray him, and it was one who never believed in the first place.
Judas isn’t a loyal follower of Jesus, who has been unluckily designated as the one to have his faith removed from him to play the part of the evil betrayer. He betrays Jesus because he never believed that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God, the promised Messiah, and everything he has said about his identity and purpose in the gospel up to this point. Judas had reason to fear, because he had no faith in the saving power of God, and chose to ignore the salvation offered to him. If we are prone to fearing that Jesus would cause us to betray him, or that our faith isn’t as real as we think, we need to remember that Judas would never have had those fears because he had no faith in Christ.
Peter, in his sinfulness, will betray Jesus too, as Jesus himself tells him in John 13:38: “Truly, truly, I say to you, the cock will not crow till you have denied me three times''. Jesus begins with the same “truly, truly” that he speaks to Judas in 13:21, but these awful words to Peter are quickly followed by words of comfort - “let not your hearts be troubled”. Jesus knows that Peter will fail him and let him down, but he is to take heart, for Jesus will prepare a place for him in his Father’s house. His denial is not because of unbelief, it is because of his human weakness, but there is abundant grace for him! Jesus does not shut him out of the promised rest that is given to his people.
Could we, too, as those who love and follow Jesus, deny him? Yes. We might not betray him, but we do let him down and fail him and deny his Lordship over our lives. Wonderfully, just as Peter is, we are still promised a place in our Father’s house. If we truly believe in Christ our Saviour, we will not be cast out like Judas into the darkness of night, but will be forgiven and welcomed back into our Father’s arms.
Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine!
Oh, what a foretaste of glory divine!
Heir of salvation, purchase of God,
born of his Spirit, washed in his blood.*